A Tin Pan Alley Jew — Albert Von Tilzer — composed the catchy tune to the anthem of baseball, "Take Me Out to the Ballgame," and I enjoy singing along. But the words, written by Philadelphia Catholic Jack Norworth, sometimes give me pause. Since Catholics, like Jews, have a penchant for rules, the song's chorus is based on three commands.
Baseball-crazed Katie — the song's heroine — tells her boyfriend to: take her out to the ball game; buy her some peanuts and Cracker Jack; and root, root, root for the home team. For me, those rules aren't always easy to follow.
Although I've reached the age where I mostly take others out to the ball game, the first command is not so hard — I love being there. And I am one, according to a recent account in The New York Times, of about 500 people who actually buys Cracker Jack at any given game. So no problem with rule No. 2, either.
It's rooting for the home team that gives me trouble.
For a wandering Jew, where, really, is home? Should I base this on geography? The Jewish connection? Other values?
If geography is the main criterion, then the answer should be easy. I have lived in Philadelphia for almost 40 years now. My mother grew up here, and here she is buried. So I should be a Phillies fan. But in my mother's adult years, she raised me in Brooklyn, and that's where we became baseball fans. Based on geography, I am a Dodgers fan.
They left town for L. A. when I was 7, and I briefly switched my allegiance to the New York Yankees, but soon lost interest in baseball entirely. My mother, who couldn't bear the thought of the Yankees, became a Mets fan until her death. Either way, her heart — and mine — remained in New York.
On Jewish grounds, the Phillies don't make a strong case for allegiance. Their connections are limited to the "technically Jewish on halachic grounds but not very interested in things Jewish" general manager Ruben Amaro Jr., and Phillies staffer Josh Schrager, whom I know because he took my "Jews & Sports" class at Temple University.
Ultimately, however, home is where my values are. The Dodgers were my team as a child because they integrated baseball; Jackie Robinson was my true Jewish hero for confronting bigotry with dignity and perseverance. Philadelphia, on the other hand, was a source of some of that bigotry.
Ben Chapman, Phillies manager, verbally abused Robinson when the Dodgers came to play here. The Phillies, along with the Yankees, were among the last teams to integrate, and the Phillies (and the fans) treated their only African-American star, Richard Allen, with contempt.
But things change. It is many years later, and I can't help but embrace this Phillies team.
It has improved on the racially challenged Phillies of the past, featuring a majority of position players (six of eight, if you count Pacific Islander Shane Victorino) and quite a few stars of color. Their manager seems a mensch, and so do the players. They don't give up — on themselves or on each other. And they don't seem to care that the national media hasn't treated them with the respect due defending champions.
So for the past few years, I have rooted for the Phillies. The taciturn and overly endowed Yankees don't compare. And given her feelings about the Yankees, I think my mother might have approved the way I've applied the "root for the home team" rule, at least for the World Series.
Rebecca Alpert is a rabbi and an associate professor at Temple University. She is currently working on a book, Out of Left Field: Jews in Black Baseball.